Unequivocally, Stephen Curry was the best player in basketball last season.
Curry was unequivocally the best player in basketball last year. He took what was the best shooting season in league history and blew it out of the water—in part by taking the range of a plausible jumper to terrifying new depths and in part by obliterating his own three-point record (by 116 makes!) to hit 402 in total. For reference: None among Carmelo Anthony, Bradley Beal, Draymond Green, and Jeff Teague even hit 116 threes (which, again, is only the margin by which Curry outpaced his own all-time mark) all last season. The reigning Most Valuable Player had a compelling case as the league’s Most Improved Player, which is particularly insane when considering the scaling difficulty of improvement at the highest levels of stardom. Along the way, Curry was the self-evident best player on the winningest team in NBA history and showed how many considerable, tangential benefits can be drawn from the way he drives. Clear career bests in shots taken at the rim, free throw attempts, and team offensive efficiency showed the contrast of a great player becoming that much greater—a fact made all the more pronounced by the way Curry’s game changed following his postseason knee injury. We didn’t hold Curry’s injured performance against him too much, though the way his game down-shifts when he isn’t fully able to separate and drive is worth noting. A fully healthy Curry is the game’s most fearsome offensive player. A limited one is still a superstar-level contributor, albeit confined to certain applications and spaces on the court. Curry’s defense, too, while not a problem in any kind of consistent sense, created a wedge between him and Kevin Durant. Those two Warriors teammates are both magnificent offensive players. But within the context of difficult matchups, Curry is the kind of defender a team moves off the ball as to protect him. Durant is the kind of a defender that a team moves in to help contain opponents like Curry. That advantage means even more in a vacuum; Curry’s shooting (and all that comes from it) would travel incredibly well across teams and systems, but Durant’s scoring, size, and defensive flexibility make him slightly more portable. You can read more on that specific comparison in the section below. Of this we can be sure: Curry belongs at basketball’s summit, squarely in the same tier as those two stars above him. There is no argument to the contrary. (Last year: No. 4)
+ Outstanding clutch performer; forced road crowds into more awestruck gasps and deflated sighs than any other player last season
+ Lead the NBA in True Shooting Percentage, making Curry the first player ever to do so while attempting 20+ shots a game
– A solid system defender at best, exploitable at worst
– Hunger for the big play can lead to some painful, inopportune turnovers (See: Game 7, 2016 NBA Finals)